Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quote: Wilson Harris

"The flute sings of an ancient riverbead one hundred fathoms deep, far below the Potaro River that runs to the Waterfall. Two rivers then. The visible Potaro runs to the Waterfall. The invisible stream of the river of the dead runs far below, far under our knees. The flute tells of the passage of the drowned river of the dead and the river of the living are one quantum stream possessed of four bnks. We shall see!

"So deep, so far below, is the river of the dead that the sound of its stream may never be heard or visualized except when we clothe ourselves with the mask, with the ears of the dancer in the hill. Then the murmur of the buried stream comes up to us as if its source lies in the stars and it may only be heard when we are abnormally attentive to the mystery of creation and the voice of the flute within the lips of three drowned children.

"Listen to the voice of the flute. It sings and tells its tale in the English language yet solid (however whispering) music gives the Word that echoes in one's frame as one kneels uncanny twists, uncanny spirals, that relate to ancestral tongues, Macusi, Carib, Arawak, Wapishana pre-Columbian tongues that have been eclipsed.

"From such eclipse emerges the rich spoil and upheaval of the Word, upheaval into banks of the river of space. As though the flute is a paradox, it arrives at the solidity of music by processes of excavation within a living languag.

"Once cannot tame the voices of the flute, voices of such uncanny lightness yet miracle of being that they are able to tilt the two rivers, the visible and the invisible rivers, into diagrammatic discourse; and in so doing to create the four banks of the river of space into a ladder upon which the curved music of the flute ascends. Those banks are dislodged upwards into rungs in the ladder and into stepping stones into original space.

"The titled banks convert of the river of space into a sieve that spills its contents. That sieve is the antiphon of the Waterfal, it constitutes a discourse between the rocks in the Waterfall and the clouds in the sky. The spilt water evaporates into cloud, evaporates into the promise of new rain, into cloud-kinship to latencies of precipitation in and of the Waterfall through rock. And the voice of the spiralling flute mirrors within solid music the ascension of the spirits of the living and the dead through rock and cloud into space."

Copyright © from Wilson Harris, The Four Banks of the River of Space, London: Faber and Faber, 1990, pp. 43-45. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Recent iPhone Drawings

Here are a few recent iPhone sketches. This summer I've usually spent most of my commuting (light rail, subway, etc.) time reading rather than sketching, but I have knocked off a few of these just to keep my fingers nimble. I haven't carried the iPad with me in a while, but when I gather a few more iPad drawings I'll post those too. Enjoy!
iPhone drawing, MTA subway
Man on subway (iPhone sketch)
iPhone drawing, Light Rail
Man on PATH (iPhone sketch) [he actually reminded me of a young James Earl Hardy]
iPhone sketch on light rail
Man on light rail (iPhone sketch)
iPhone drawing
Teenager on light rail (iPhone sketch)
iPhone drawing
Man on PATH (iPhone sketch)

Three variations on the same drawing
iPhone sketch
Man on PATH (iPhone sketch) - first pass
iPhone drawing
Man on PATH (iPhone sketch) - second pass, in B/W
iPhone drawing
Man on PATH (iPhone sketch) - third pass, in color

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Poems: William Butler Yeats & Federico García Lorca

Apropos of the current geopolitical economic crises, here are two poems that came to mind recently as I thought about the craziness we're witnessing.  They both speak for themselves, so I won't provide a long introduction for either. The first, a standard of English literature classes, is Irish Nobelist poet and playwright William Butler Yeats's 1919 poem "The Second Coming," which he originally published in The Dial in 1920, and later included in the collection Michael Robartes and the Dancer in 1921.  The version below is the one that originally appeared in this volume (there are other versions online and in print).

The second is the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca's (1898-1936) "Danza de la muerte" (Dance of Death), written in 1929 during his sojourn as a Columbia University student in New York. It appears in his posthumous collection Poet in New York.  Both were written at times of sociopolitical crisis; Yeats' poem appears at the end of the First World War and comes just after the Russian Revolution, while Lorca's marks the year of the US Stock Market Crash and the beginning of the Great Depression; in fact, Lorca was on Wall Street the very day--October 24, 1929--of the great crash.  Wars, economic and political crises, apocalypses, sound familiar? "The center cannot hold...." "Ay, Wall Street!"


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Copyright © William Butler Yeats, 1920, from Michael Robartes and the Dancer. Chruchtown, Dundrum, Ireland: The Chuala Press, 1920. (as found in the photo-lithography edition printed Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1970.).



The mask! Look how the mask
comes from Africa to New York.
They are gone, the pepper trees,
the tiny buds of phosphorus.
They are gone, the camels with torn flesh,
and the valleys of light the swan lifted in its beak.

It was the time of parched things,
the wheat spear in the eye, the laminated cat,
the time of tremendous, rusting bridges
and the deathly silence of cork.

It was the great gathering of dead animals
pierced by the swords of light.
The endless joy of the hippopotamus with cloven feet of ash
and of the gazelle with an immortelle in its throat.

In the withered, waveless solitude,
the dented mask was dancing.
Half the world was sand,
the other half mercury and dormant sunlight.

The mask. Look at the mask!
Sand, crocodile, and fear above New York.

Canyons of lime imprisoned an empty sky,
where the voices of those who die under the guano were heard.
A pure and manicured sky, identical with itself,
with the down and the keen-edged iris of its invisible mountains--

it finished off the slender stems of song
and was swept away towards channels of sap,
through the stillness of the last profiles,
lifting pieces of mirror with its tail.

While the Chinese man wept on the roof
without finding the naked body of his wife,
and the bank director examined the nanometer
that measures the cruel silence of money,
the mask arrived on Wall Street.

It isn't a strange place for the dance,
these cemetary niches that turn the eyes yellow.
Between the sphinx and the bank vault, there is a taut thread
that pierces that heart of all poor children.
The primitive impetus dances with the mechanical impetus,
unaware, in their frenzy, of the original light.
Because if the wheel forgets its formula,
it will sing naked with herds of horses;
and if a flame burns the frozen blueprints,
the sky will have to flee before the tumlt of windows.

This isn't a strange place for the dance, I tell you.
The mask will dance among columns of blood and numbers,
among hurricanes of gold and groans of the unemployed,
who will howl, in the dead of night, for your dark time.

Oh, savage, shameless North America!
Stretched out on a frontier of snow

The mask. Look at the mask!
Such a wave of mire and fireflies above New York!

* * *

I was on the terrace, wrestling with the moon.
Swarms of windows riddled one of the night's thighs.
Placid sky-cattle drank from my eyes
and the breezes on long oars
struck the ashen store windows on Broadway.

The drop of blood looked for light in the star's yolk
so as to seem a dead apple seed.
The prairie air, driven by the shepherds,
trembled in fear like a mollusk without its shell.

But I'm sure there are no dancers
among the dead.
The dead are engrossed in devouring their own hands.
It's the others who dance with the mask and its vihuela.
Others, drunk on silver, cold men,
who sleep where thighs and hard flames intersect,
who seek the earthworm in the landscape of fire escapes,
who drink a dead girl's tears at the bank
or eat pyramids of dawn on tiny street corners.

But don't let the Pope dance!
No, don't let the Pope dance!
Nor the King,
nor the millionaires with blue teeth,
nor the barren dancers of the cathedrals,
nor builders, nor emeralds, nor madmen, nor sodomites.
Only this mask.
This mask of ancient scarlet fever.
Only this mask!

Cobras shall hiss on the top floors.
Nettles shall shake courtyards and terraces.
The Stock Exchange shall become a pyramid of moss.
Jungle vines shall come in behind the rifles
and all so quickl, so very, very quickly.
Ay, Wall Street!

The mask. Look at the mask!
And how it spits its forest poison
through New York's imperfect anguish!

December 1929

Translation (with slight changes by me) © Copyright by Greg Simon and Steven F. White, from Poet in New York, translated by Greg Simon and Steven F. White, Edited and with an introduction and notes by Christopher Maurer, Volume I of The Poetical Works of Federico García Lorca, Edited by Christopher Maurer. New York: Noonday Press, 1988. All rights reserved.


El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
¡Cómo viene del África a New York!

Se fueron los árboles de la pimienta,
los pequeños botones de fósforo.
Se fueron los camellos de carne desgarrada
y los valles de luz que el cisne levantaba con el pico.
Era el momento de las cosas secas,
de la espiga en el ojo y el gato laminado,
del óxido de hierro de los grandes puentes
y el definitivo silencio del corcho.
Era la gran reunión de los animales muertos,
traspasados por las espadas de la luz;
la alegría eterna del hipopótamo con las pezuñas de ceniza
y de la gacela con una siempreviva en la garganta.
En la marchita soledad sin honda
el abollado mascarón danzaba.
Medio lado del mundo era de arena,
mercurio y sol dormido el otro medio.

El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
!Arena, caimán y miedo sobre Nueva York!

Desfiladeros de cal aprisionaban un cielo vacío
donde sonaban las voces de los que mueren bajo el guano.
Un cielo mondado y puro, idéntico a sí mismo,
con el bozo y lirio agudo de sus montañas invisibles,
acabó con los más leves tallitos del canto
y se fue al diluvio empaquetado de la savia,
a través del descanso de los últimos desfiles,
levantando con el rabo pedazos de espejos.
Cuando el chino lloraba en el tejado
sin encontrar el desnudo de su mujer
y el director del banco observando el manómetro
que mide el cruel silencio de la moneda,
el mascarón llegaba al Wall Street.
No es extraño para la danza
este columbario que pone los ojos amarillos.
De la esfinge a la caja de caudales hay un hilo tenso
que atraviesa el corazón de todos los niños pobres.
El ímpetu primitivo baila con el ímpetu mecánico,
ignorantes en su frenesí de la luz original.
Porque si la rueda olvida su fórmula,
ya puede cantar desnuda con las manadas de caballos:
y si una llama quema los helados proyectos,
el cielo tendrá que huir ante el tumulto de las ventanas.
No es extraño este sitio para la danza, yo lo digo.
El mascarón bailará entre columnas de sangre y de números,
entre huracanes de oro y gemidos de obreros parados
que aullarán, noche oscura, por tu tiempo sin luces,
¡oh salvaje Norteamérica! ¡oh impúdica! ¡oh salvaje,
tendida en la frontera de la nieve!

El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
¡Qué ola de fango y luciérnaga sobre Nueva York!

* * *

Yo estaba en la terraza luchando con la luna
Enjambres de ventanas acribillaban un muslo de la noche.
En mis ojos bebían las dulces vacas de los cielos.
Y las brisas de largos remos
golpeaban los cenicientos cristales de Broadway.
La gota de sangre buscaba la luz de la yema del astro
para fingir una muerta semilla de manzana.
El aire de la llanura, empujado por los pastores,
temblaba con un miedo de molusco sin concha.
Pero no son los muertos los que bailan,
estoy seguro.
Los muertos están embebidos, devorando sus propias manos.
Son los otros los que bailan con el mascarón y su vihuela;
son los otros, los borrachos de plata, los hombres fríos,
los que crecen en el cruce de los muslos y llamas duras,
los que buscan la lombriz en el paisaje de las escaleras,
los que beben en el banco lágrimas de niña muerta
o los que comen por las esquinas diminutas pirámides del alba.
¡Que no baile el Papa!
¡No, que no baile el Papa!
Ni el Rey,
ni el millonario de dientes azules,
ni las bailarinas secas de las catedrales,
ni constructores, ni esmeraldas, ni locos, ni sodomitas.
Sólo este mascarón,
este mascarón de vieja escarlatina,
¡sólo este mascarón!
Que ya las cobras silbarán por los últimos pisos,
que ya las ortigas estremecerán patios y terrazas,
que ya la Bolsa será una pirámide de musgo,
que ya vendrán lianas después de los fusiles
y muy pronto, muy pronto, muy pronto.
¡Ay, Wall Street!

El mascarón. ¡Mirad el mascarón!
¡Cómo escupe veneno de bosque
por la angustia imperfecta de Nueva York!

Diciembre 1929

Copyright © Federico García Lorca, 1929.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Debt-Limit Ceiling Blues (Or Obama the Moderate Republican, Revisited)

Though the looming disaster of the US Congress's failure raise the debt-limit ceiling, a procedural vote that has been fairly routine in the past, has been a topic I've debated writing about for weeks now, what provoked today's post was seeing yet again in a New York City MTA station--23rd St., at 6th Avenue to be exact--a young mother, with children (this young woman had both a 5-6 year old and an infant who could have been no more than half a year old) begging for cash to feed herself and her children. That, and thinking about the ongoing US 9-16% unemployment/underemployment rate, and reading in yesterday's New York Times about the extremely disturbing racial and ethnic wealth gap, caused to a huge degree by the 2008 economic collapse, the bursting of the housing bubble, and the subsequent explosion of joblessness and underemployment, guided me to today's entry. Seeing yet another young woman, with a child in tow, begging for money to feed herself and her child, on top of reading about the grim economic statistics particularly facing Black and Latino Americans, during this ongoing Great Recession (though it's allegedly "over") and then watching this sickening Grand Guignol play out in Washington, DC over the debt-limit ceiling vote, the deficit and the debt, is enough to make me want to go Robespierre.

Yes, I know the contemporary Republican Party is far to right even of its most recent White House incarnation, George W. Bush, let alone its icon, Ronald Reagan, and includes a raft of fantasists, nihilists and anarchists who would make William Godwin or Mikhail Bakunin jealous. Yes, I grasp that even with a near filibuster-proof majority, the Democrats in the Senate were too fractious to pass much of the legislation that their counterparts in the House, under Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), pushed through over and over. And yes, I know that almost immediately upon taking office President Barack Obama cast himself as a "centrist," hovering above the fray and rejecting what liberal, progressive and even some conservative economists argued were policies to address the employment crisis and rebuild the country after the bursting of the housing bubble and the gross dereliction of the Federal Reserve, ratings agencies, and Wall Street. His approach initially was more of the neoliberal same. Yes, I know that we have an establishment, mainstream media consisting of millionaires and millionaire wannabes, the children and heirs of millionaires or friends thereof, who are insulated from the problems millions of Americans face, and are more eager for "centrism" and "consensus" and splitting the difference and never calling the GOP out, even if these same media types vote for Democrats or call themselves "liberals" in secret.

But even taking all of these things into account, I find myself coming back to a basic question, and it centers on the president: was there any need whatsoever for Barack Obama to yoke the necessary, usually "clean" debt-ceiling limit vote to a crazy attempt to ram through "Shock Doctrine" style deficit cuts, including to vital social safety net programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, when before and since the 2008 economic collapse two basic economic facts have always been apparent: 1) creating JOBS would have the effect of lowering the deficit and government spending, because more jobs mean more tax revenues AND in the absence of jobs, people necessarily draw more on the invaluable social safety net, thus increasing the deficit and requiring more borrowing; and 2) by allowing all the Bush tax cuts to expire--ALL OF THEM--resetting them to the marginal tax rates under Bill Clinton and with the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in place, the country would plug a $4 TRILLION deficit hole over 10 years.  At almost no point since he took office, and certainly at no point whatsoever since the Republicans won the House in 2010 in part by terrifying seniors over claims that Obama had cut Medicare (!) through implementation of Obamacare, has the president made either of these facts clear. The first is so self-evident that it would likely have only needed to take root with a little nurturing, while the second definitely needed to be restated by every liberal in Washington, though it's increasingly clear that neither will get much airing, because the endgame of the current and future circuses involving Obama, the Democrats and the Republicans is to permanently lower taxes on the rich, gut social safety net programs, and transfer more of society's burdens onto the middle-class, working class and poor. Ancien régime, c'est nous!

Back in January 2010, after a year of exasperation at our then-new president, whom I not only enthusiastically voted for but helped to elect (both to the presidency and to his prior seat, as the junior US Senator from Illinois), I posted a blog entry, "Is Barack Obama Really Colin Powell," asking whether in effect we had elected a moderate Republican--Colin Powell--rather than a liberal Democrat to the nation's highest office. As is often the case with these blog posts, it merited little response, but that did not surprise me.  Since Barack Obama's election, I have often felt loath in criticizing the president, and family members and most of my friends have not wanted to hear any criticism from me or anyone else of the president, certainly not from his diehard opponents on the right, nor from those who, appealing from the left and having supported him, have felt great disappointment what portended to be a transformational presidency rapidly slips away.  Despite some early positive signs, such as his appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court, which remains, I think, one of the most important achievements of his presidency; his signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009; and decision to bail out of General Motors and Chrysler, again and again whenever Obama has tended to choose neoliberal or sometimes even conservative options over liberal or progressive ones, and the former tendency has grown stronger over the last year, particularly after the Republican assumption of the House in 2010.

Even when I wrote my earlier post, was still willing to give Obama an opportunity to show that in fact he was not what I feared, someone seeking not only to extend Bill Clinton's neoliberal economic approaches (i.e., Rubinomics, which was exactly the route he took, appointing as Treasury Secretary Wall Street agent Timothy Geithner and as his chief economic advisor former Harvard University president and notorious bully and deregulatory guru Larry Summers), but many of the worst supply-side economic theories of Ronald Reagan and the neoconservative geopolitical and military approaches of George W. Bush. Well, one year later, I think it's clear that my worst fears have not only been confirmed but exceeded. In that earlier post, I even mentioned that Obama had thus far avoided Herbert Hoover's approach, in 1929, of tepid governmental approaches coupled with austerity, volunteerism, and market-based boosterism, and that a president Powell might very well have taken the earlier Republican president's model as his own, but as of July 27, 2011, it's fair to say, as The New Republic's John Judis argues, that President Obama has doubled down on Hooverism, not only adopting his predecessor's rhetoric, but intensifying the failed economic policies such that he has called for greater spending cuts and inadequate tax increases that exceed even the expectations of the average Republican voter! Obama's Deficit Commission, also known as Simpson-Bowles, was unable to agree on a recommendation because several of its clearheaded Democratic members and more obstinate Republican ones refused to be railroaded into buying into the economically problematic approaches that have long been pushed by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Foundation, and similar right-wing and libertarian propaganda outfits, whose endgame is, as I suggested above, lower personal and corporate federal marginal tax rates  (Peterson is a billionaire so he benefits handsomely, as would his heirs), privatization or gutting of social safety net programs (privatized Social Security would benefit Peterson, a hedge funder, and also flood Wall Street with cash), and increased economic burdens on middle-class, working-class and poor people (because in the absence of a safety net, we're on our own).

President Obama & House Speaker
John Boehner, R-OH, on the
first green as they golf
at Andrews AFB, MD
Saturday, June 18, 2011.
Charles Dharapak/Associated Press
Now, I read enough blogs and websites (via fastnewsReader and other apps!) to grasp that I was not alone in my appraisal of Obama back in January 2010.  Since then, though, I have read more and more folks coming to a similar conclusion and level of dismay. One of my favorite bloggers (and public intellectuals), who has been repeatedly proved right in his assessments and predictions, is Nobel laureate and Princeton University professor Paul Krugman, who, I should note, was critical of Obama's centrist stances during the primary season. (Krugman has, at the same time, praised Obama when praise is due.) Today, Krugman simply posted on his New York Times Conscience of a Liberal blog, "Obama, the Moderate Conservative." Krugman linked to a Fiscal Times piece by former Reagan economic advisor Bruce Bartlett asking, "Barack Obama: The Democrats' Richard Nixon." There is Salon writer Michael Lind's persuasive "Why the GOP Should Nominate Barack Obama in 2012," which walks through some of the same points I made back in 2010, though we all know that would never happen. Another online writer I regularly read, the brilliant gadfly lawyer Glenn Greenwald, posted months back that in fact Obama was not being forced to push such extreme plans--let's note again, to the right of even average Republican voters--but that he wanted to: "Obama's 'bad' negotiating is actually shrewd negotiating." And, to be fair, as Greenwald notes, some commentators, like Digby of Hullabaloo, warned even before Obama took office that he was pushing for that hideous "Grand Bargain" establishment Washington and New York's elite want so badly: cutting Social Security and Medicare, and lowering personal and corporate taxes to ensure the social safety net can never be adequately funded again. I could go on, but I'll stop here because it's numbing to continue.

So what about that young woman and her two children, seeking money just to eat, or the others I've written about on here, or the millions I haven't mentioned, all around us, barely hanging on? Well, they're nowhere in mind among those participating in the Washington carnival as it's unfolding. All the "fiscal austerity" we're being subjected to means things will get even worse for her--and everyone else, except the billionaires, bondholders, corporate execs, etc.--before they get better.  We may have a something akin to a budget default if the President cannot persuade the two houses of Congress to pass one of the two competing horrid bills they've submitted, or, in the absence of such, refuses to invoke the 14th Amendment to honor the nation's debts. (We should never forget that the Treasury very well could print money until forever if it wanted to.) We may or may not get some of the severe cuts-coupled-with-inadequate revenues that the President/Republicans/Washington establishment/Wall Street are jonesing for, but it's unlikely we're going to see him or any other major Democratic politician (Bernie Sanders, I-VT, is an independent) not only call for a major jobs program but vocally defend the social safety net at the very moment when its existence is proving invaluable. It's unlikely Barack Obama will face a third-party primary challenger from the left or even a viable left-leaning third-party candidate in the general election, since the various third-party organizations now being touted are just more center-right establishmentarianism seeking tax cuts and a gutted safety net, i.e., failed GOP policies. Would I vote for someone primarying Barack Obama? I don't know. Would I vote for a 3rd party candidate like Ralph Nader? I didn't in 2000 and I'm not sure I would in 2012. Would I just not vote at all? On top of this, and I gather the people in the White House just don't care, are clueless or have some hidden strategy I just can't grasp, the possible GOP nominee may run on an economically populist program given the president's intransigence on addressing the unemployment problem, she or he will very likely be even worse, since current GOP plans would do even more severe damage to the fragile US economy, as conservative policies are demonstrating in the UK right now.  In terms of Obama's GOP challenger, I still think John McCain would have been worse on every issue, but then again, other than Justice Sotomayor, can I be sure of that?

Right now, we're stuck, and liberals and progressives might want to think very carefully about how to proceed, given the lack of any channels to anyone running anything in Washington these days. I hate to end on such a down note, but we're in a very ugly place right now, and that young woman and her two children, and millions more like them, will be hanging on by a wing and a prayer and the beneficence of others, while the people in Washington, including the President himself, fight their damnedest to give even more of what's left of this country to those who already have almost all of it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Random Photos

Here are a few photos from the last month or so, in and around the Big Apple. Enjoy!
The rising Freedom Tower from the rear
The new Freedom Tower, from the west, near Poets House
The new blackberries
This summer's first batch of blackberries from the garden
Lettuce from the garden!
Fresh lettuce from the garden
Tayari Jones signing her new book
The radiant Tayari Jones, signing copies of her superlative new book, Silver Sparrow, at McNally-Jackson Bookstore
Curb Your Enthusiasm band playing, near Herald Sq.
Musicians playing the theme song for the show Curb Your Enthusiasm, near Herald Square
Chelsea street art (décollage)
Chelsea décollage
Tree plaque (art work by Hank Willis Thomas)
Japanese pagoda tree plaque, featuring an artwork by Hank Willis Thomas, Chelsea
Postmodern Sh*t, a poster in the MTA
Postmodern Shit poster, in the subway
Empire State Bldg & fireworks in the background
Empire State Building with July 4th fireworks in the background
Empire State Bldg & fireworks in the background
East Side of Manhattan, near NYU Medical Center and Bellevue
Man filming a woman for a video in Bryant Park
Man filming a woman for music video, Bryant Park
One of the Astor Row houses, in Harlem
One of the beautifully restored Astor Row houses in Harlem
Hollister, on 5th Ave.
In front of Hollister, on 5th Avenue
Sandwich-board brotha
Sandwich-boarded man
Man passed out in front of NYPL
Man on the ground in front of the New York Public Library's Schwarzman Research Branch

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Same Sex Marriage Begins in NY + Amy Winehouse RIP + Norway's Right-Wing Terrorist

Siegal and Kopelov,
Jason DeCrow/AP
Same-sex marriages have begun in New York State, and New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, has even proclaimed July 24 the Day to Commemorate Marriage Equality. Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd were the first same-sex couple married in the state, shortly after midnight at Niagara Falls' State Park's Luna Island, the picturesque falls behind them. New York City's orderly process added the newest entrants to the marriage rolls, beginning with Phyllis Siegal and Connie Kopelov, together for 23 years, who exchanged vows at 9 am at the City Clerk's Office.

Last month New York became the sixth and largest state, alongside Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia, to legalize same-sex marriage; Hawaii, Illinois, Delaware, and New Jersey offer civil unions. California's Supreme Court also legalized same-sex marriage in 2008 before it was invalidated by Proposition 8 in November of that year, while Maine's May 2009 legalization of same-sex marriage by its legislature was overturned by referendum in November of that year. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced support for a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. DOMA negates federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and allows any state to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in another state.  With a Republican-held House, it stands no chance of passing, but if the Democrats can regain the House and retain the Senate, a dicey prospect at best, I see President Obama signing this bill into law.

I predict that in 15 years, nearly all the northeastern and Pacific coast states, much of the upper Midwest, and perhaps Florida and Colorado will have legalized same-sex marriage, but that the South will be the country's last holdouts.


Amy Winehouse onstage
during 46664 Concert In
Celebration Of Nelson
Mandela's Life, Hyde
Park 2008
Gareth Davies/Getty
British soul singer Amy Winehouse (1983-2011), who won 5 Grammys for her second album, 2006's Back to Black, was found dead yesterday in her north London home. Lord but could this young British contralto sing! Perhaps best known for her ironic and portentous hit "Rehab," in which she telegraphed her attitude concerning her loved ones' attempts to help her, Winehouse also climbed the UK and US charts with singles like "You Know I'm No Good" and "Back to Black," and became the first British artist to win five Grammy awards, including for Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.  I particularly love "Tears Dry On Their Own," another of her unsentimental, prescient gems on the album.

Winehouse had struggled with eating disorders and substance abuse and addiction for years.  In August 2007 she was hospitalized for a drug overdose, and at the end of the year, she was captured on camera smoking crack cocaine and talking of further drug use. In 2009, she returned to rehab for drug-related problems. Through often dazzling in her televised performances, had been hit or miss on tours, including her 2007 British 17-date affair, during which she was booed and suffered walkouts in Birmingham because of her incoherence and vehemence towards the audience. In June Winehouse canceled her comeback tour after a disastrous, shambling performance Belgrade, Serbia, which was captured on tape by angry and shocked concertgoers.

Winehouse leaves her parents, Janis and Mitch Winehouse, the latter a musician who'd released a jazz album of his own, and was about to perform in his first date in the US, in New York, as well as fans worldwide who mourn her untimely passing. RIP.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Harlem Book Fair, 2011

Today C and I headed up to Harlem to attend the annual Harlem Book Fair (HBF).  Sponsored by QBR: The Black Book Review and located along several blocks of 135th Street near the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, at Malcolm X Boulevard, HB brings together publishers of all sizes, from major houses to single-volume self-published authors; readers from across the New York area; and arts and crafts vendors.  It includes panels inside the Schomburg building, panels at the nearby Countee Cullen Branch of the NYPL, workshops at the Thurgood Marshall Academy, and outdoor readings and performances, including a number geared specifically towards children. Particularly noteworthy in my opinion was this year's HBF Digital Village Outdoor Stage, which featured a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) E-Book Party. Though we were there, we were busy browsing the tables, so we missed it, but I had brought along my iPad just in case....

I've been attending the book fair for many years now, having participated in readings and panel discussions in the past, and this year's outdoor market portion of the fair appeared to be the smallest in terms of vendors' booths that I can remember. There seemed to be fewer total booths than in previous years and fewer booths by the bigger New York-based publishing houses (though Penguin, one of the sponsors, held a prime location) and bookstores, with the outdoor fair taking up only two long blocks instead of three as it had in the past. I chalked this up to the poor economy and the changing publishing and bookselling industries; this week Borders Group went under.  Perhaps it was the 102F heat, but there also appeared to be fewer people milling about as well.  Nevertheless, the authors and booksellers who were present were to talk about and sell their work, and some smaller publishers offered ample catalogues and backlists suggesting they were beating or at least staying ahead of the economic sharks. In general I found invigorating to see the enthusiasm in and for black writing and publishing; so often at mainstream writing-related events in New York or elsewhere in the US, except perhaps in Atlanta, black authors, readers, and publishers remain an afterthought, and the Harlem Book Fair always serves as a counterweight to this.

That said, the books on sale mostly appeared to fall into several distinct categories--popular black street and prison fiction, redemption narratives, romances, children's books (including many written as comics or in graphic format), and self-help and financial-help books--that were less diverse than in previous years. I saw fewer books of poetry, history, politics and political philosophy, creative nonfiction and journalism, economics, and the visual and performing arts. I also noted fewer graphic novels and comics, and fewer texts dealing with LGBTQ topics. There also appeared to be a gulf between books published by the big and mid-sized presses, in all genres, and self-published or small-press works. Works by most of the black poets and fiction writers, and by nearly all the black academics I know, were nowhere on display, thus giving attendees only a partial view of the rich array of books published by black authors or on black topics out there.

We did not attend any of the panels this year, but they looked to be as engaging as they usually are, and ranged from discussions of Barack Obama's first few years to contemporary Black British writing. Given how diverse the black and non-black communities are in Harlem and how Black America continues to diversify, I was also surprised by the paucity, except among the arts vendors, of more examples of this. Perhaps it's just my misperception, but in previous years there seemed to be more books focusing on or by African authors and topics.  With the large Latino population, especially Afrolatinos, living in or neighboring areas of Manhattan and the Bronx, I was also surprised there were not more Spanish-language books and events.  Perhaps as Harlem and surrounding areas continue to diversify, this will change too. So perhaps will the types of publishers who are present, and perhaps there will be a larger e-book and digital presence in the future; simulcasting and streaming some of the events so that they're available to attendees with digital devices might be a great addition to consider for next year.

Some photographs of the event:
Dr. Julianne Malveaux @ Harlem Book Fair
Dr. Julianne Malveaux, about to sign her new book
Poet & fiction writer G. Winston James
Poet and fiction writer G. Winston James
Author & activist Dr. Heru Kuti
Author and activist Dr. Heru Kuti
Ericka Williams's A Woman Scorned
Speakers encouraging young readers
Speakers entertaining and informing young readers at the Youth Tent
Author Alterick Gaston @ Harlem Book Fair
Author Alterick Gaston
Sabrina Carter and Jerry Craft at the Baby Ellington/Mama's Boys table
Sabrina Carter of Baby Ellington and Jerry Craft of Mama's Boys
Geoffrey McClanahan's booth @ Harlem Book Fair
Geoffrey McClanahan's booth
Author LeRoy Dukes @ Harlem Book Fair
LeRoy Dukes, shaking a fan's hand
Author Kontrena Clark @ Harlem Book Fair
Kontrena Clark, in a wedding dress, to promote her book (it got me to stop and photograph her!)
Author Ronald Richardson @ Harlem Book Fair
Ronald Richardson with some of his work
Angelic Script Publishing table @ Harlem Book Fair
Angelic Script Publishing's table
Artist Dred-Scott Keyes 
Artist Dred-Scott Keyes

Friday, July 22, 2011

New Directions' 75th Anniversary Reading @ Poets House

James Laughlin's rationale for New Directions Publishing Corp.
"New Directions was founded three years ago to do a particular job: to foster the branches of literature which are being victimized by the excessive commercialization of American publishing--poetry, criticism, translation, belles-lettres, and unconventional fiction."

New Directions was founded to counteract, in its small way, the tendency to treat a book as nothing more than a package of merchandise. Perahps the editor is an idealist. But that species is not yet extinct. Our first years have shown there are a great many people in this country who love the best in literature and resent its degradation. Confident of their support and anxious to deserve it, New Directions enters another publishing year." - James Laughlin, 1939

So wrote New Directions Publishing Corporation's founder, poet and steel company heir James Laughlin (1914-1997), three years after the publication, when Laughlin was a 22-year-old Harvard sophomore, of New Directions in Poetry & Prose, an anthology that featured the work of writers, some of whom were already acclaimed but many of whom would eventually be recognized as among the most important in 20th century American literature: William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, Henry Miller, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and e. e. cummings.  75 years and countless authors, from the modernist canon and from literary traditions all over the world, later, New Directions is still publishing, having introduced US readers to the work of major American and international writers like H.D., Delmore Schwartz, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Clarice Lispector, Raja Rao, Muriel Spark, Thomas Merton, Anne Carson, Jorge Luis Borges, Allen Grossman, Jerome Rothenberg, Victor Pelevin, Bei Dao, W. G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, and Javier Marías, to name just a few.

Last night, Poets House in New York, one of the finest repositories of poetry books in the US, hosted a dodranscentennial celebration and reception for New Directions, to coincide with its debut, on its second floor, of selected materials from New Directions' rich archive. The reading featured eight authors and translators, some from New York and some from farther away, who read from authors published by New Directions or their own work.  After Poets House Program Director and publisher Stephen Motika opened the program, he introduced the first reader, translator Susan Bernofsky, who has translated several works from German by Swiss author Robert Walser, read from her recent translation of Microscripts (New Directions, 2010). Subsequent readers were NYU French professor Richard Sieburth, who read two selections from the work of Ezra Pound; poet, translator, scholar, and Bomb editor Mónica de la Torre, who read translations (by Laura Healy) from poet Roberto Bolaño's funny, provocative Tres (New Directions, forthcoming in September 2011).

After Mónica, Brown professor and translator Forrest Gander read selections from his newest book, published by New Directions; Eliot Weinberger read from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 1958 volume A Coney Island of the Mind, one of New Direction's and American poetry's best selling volumes; poet and Duke professor Nathaniel Mackey, who received the National Book Award for his New Directions-published collection Splay Anthem in 2005, read from that and a more recent collection, then offered a snippet from Djuna Barnes's 1936 volume Nightwood; and he was followed by the final reader, poet, critic and Buffalo professor Susan Howe, who began with a small selection from William Carlos Williams's Paterson (1946-1958), before finishing with a thrilling little sliver, which included a passage she performed almost like sound poetry, from her most recent book, THAT THIS (New Directions, 2010). New Directions editor and poet Jeffrey Yang concluded the event with brief remarks, and a fine reception followed upstairs.

If you are in New York and want something engaging to do--and afterwards you might stroll along the picturesque riverwalk just a few steps awa--before October 8, 2011, please visit Poets House during their regular hours and view their wonderful exhibit, in vitrines and along the upstairs walls, of New Directions books, manuscripts, correspondence, book cover mockups, and ephemera. There are some real treasures in the vitrines and along the walls; I've posted a few images below, but I intend to go back when it's a bit quieter to explore the wonderful treasures on display.  Poets House also has its 2011 Poetry Book Showcase on display on the first floor, and will be hosting a celebratory event in conjunction with it, with readings by Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Evie Shockley, Albert Mobilio, and Jena Osman next Tuesday!

Poets house program director and publisher Stephen Motika
Poets House Program Director and publisher Stephen Motika, delivering his beautiful introduction of the evening's events
Translator Susan Bernofsky
Susan Bernofsky, who has translated Robert Walser for New Directions, reading from her translation of his Microscripts
NYU Prof. Richard Sieburth
NYU French and Comp Lit professor Richard Sieburth, reading Ezra Pound
Mónica de la Torre
Poet and translator Mónica de la Torre, reading from translations (by Laura Healy) of Roberto Bolaño's prose poems Tres
Brown prof. Forrest Gander
Brown professor Forrest Gander, reading from his poetry
Eliot Weinberger
Eliot Weinberger, before he read from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), one of New Directions' and American poetry's most popular and best selling volumes
Nathaniel Mackey
National Book Award winning poet and professor Nathaniel Mackey, reading from Splay Anthem, the first of his books published by New Directions
Susan Howe
Poet and professor Susan Howe, who began her reading with a selection from William Carlos Williams's Paterson
New Directions editor Jeffrey Yang, closing the event
Poet and New Directions editor Jeffrey Yang, closing the event